Apotropaia and Phylakteria

Conference Paper

Archaeological evidence: 3c. Apotropaic qualities of objects: Amulets, Gems
Friday 2021-06-25
13:35 | 17:05
Place: Swedish Institute at Athens & Zoom

Phylactery in the Graeco-Egyptian ritual practice

Barbara Takács, 2021-06-25, Time: 15:55 - 16:15


The aim of this presentation is to show and analyse a type of phylactery that was specifically designed for and used during rituals described in the Graeco-Egyptian magical papyri (PGM).

This amulet type has only one purpose, to protect the practitioner against all kind of supernatural beings that appear at the time of the ceremony. These entities may have malicious intentions and are able to harm and damage the performers, who do not have the necessary protection to control the anger of the invoked spirit. Therefore, preparing the phylacteries for the ritual is crucial in order to avoid injuries or even death.

Many texts in the handbooks provide information about the required materials, design, consecration process and the usage of these amulets. They all must have contact with the magician during the rite even by wearing them around the body or holding them in one of the hands. The materials served as ingredients show a wide variety; from animal (snake skin, cat whiskers), plant (ivy, wormwood) or human body (blood) parts to other objects like lamella, gem, piece of papyrus, linen, etc. In nearly every case they need to contain some writings and/or drawings that connect them to the divine sphere. For such connection they also need to go through a consecration that includes purification, libation and occasionally animal sacrifice to the deity.

This study aims to take a closer examination on the ideas of using phylacteries in magico-religious practices during the Hellenistic and Roman imperial times. Furthermore, it will use comparative analyses of textual and material evidences, such as magical handbooks, lapidaries, other literary sources and inscribed objects and images.

About the Author(s)

University of Pécs, Hungary


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